“Keeping the lights on” vs “Giving to missions”

lights onIt’s a lot more fun to give to missions than giving to keep the lights on. I hear that a lot in my position.

And I get it. It really is more fun to think about all the great work being done by [fill in your favorite outreach center / missions agency] than to think about paying the church’s utility bills.

But do you know what almost every outreach center / missions agency has to do when they receive that money? They pay to keep their lights on.

Is there a better way to think about our giving? Can we acknowledge that all those mundane things – like keeping lights on – are an important part of the extraordinary ministry happening in any setting?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to ask whether we want to pay to keep lights on or to pay for something that sounds more glamorous. I wonder if I’ve ever been a bit selfish in wanting my giving to go only to the actual work – not to mundane things like lights and administration. It’s as if I thought, “Someone else’s money can pay for the mundane, I want to feel like my giving went to something special.” And at that point, it’s really about me, isn’t it?

We’re well-intentioned in this, please don’t get me wrong. But do you think we’ve taken an approach that isn’t really fair or best?

Is the charitable organization you’re giving to being wise and faithful with money? Do you believe in their mission? Do you believe in their faithfulness to that mission? Then give generously to them, knowing that part of what they’ll do is pay the utilities bills.

Is the charitable organization you’re giving to being wasteful? Are they choosing luxury and extravagance to the detriment of the mission? Has bureaucracy overtaken mission? You’ve seen some questions I’ve raised about salaries and buildings. Then you should probably talk to them about it or stop giving. I’d strongly recommend talking first. There’s a chance you don’t have the full picture.

If you’re giving to a church, I think it’s important to ask how much that church is giving beyond itself. How much is going purely to provide care and activities for its own? How much is the church actively sending out to support other outreach centers and missions agencies, to support the extended proclamation of the gospel across the world?

I’ve been really proud to see my church trying to take next steps toward this. Just last night, our Council affirmed a decision to immediately send 25% of all giving out the door – 10% to support outreach and missions, 15% to our denomination. We hope to do more, but I’m happy with the movement in this direction.

Where I’ve come to in it all… If I believe a church/center/agency is doing something good, I want to give to them freely. Yes, some of that will go to keeping the lights on. But I’m glad they have the lights on so they can keep doing the extraordinary work they’re doing. I don’t want to hamstring them by requiring my money to go for something extraordinary and telling them to find someone else to keep their lights on.

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